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  • Insight for Japanese language class paper on job atmosphere in Japan

    Good afternoon,

    I haven't posted on KW in a while, but writing this paper, I figured it would be a good place to gather some insights into my topic.

    In a little more detail, I am writing a paper (4000字) for my Japanese language class about job atmosphere in Japan. My approach is essentially to talk about customs and social structure in the work place, and the reasons behind those things. I also am working to tie in comparisons with Japanese school culture and American work culture, as I have some first hand experiences in those areas that I can draw from. I want to use my findings to draw conclusions about Japanese culture as a whole, to gain a deeper understanding of a place that means so much to me.

    So, just based on that, if anyone has something they would like to share, I welcome your contributions!

    But that said, I was hoping some of you with experience working in Japan (in any capacity) might answer a few questions.

    1. In your opinion, what makes the Japanese workplace unique? What would you consider some of its defining features?

    2. If there are any negative things about Japanese work atmosphere/culture, what are they? How would you change them if you could?

    3. Are there positive aspects you wish other cultures adhered to? What makes these things in particular positive?

    4. In what ways do you find the culture of the Japanese workplace to relate and/or differ from Japanese culture in general (or other subcultures within it?)


    Feel free to write in Japanese or English, whichever you feel is most appropriate.


    Any form of insight you are willing to share would be greatly appreciated.
    I thank you kindly for your generous assistance in my studies.

    Nigel Alcorn
    Industrial Design Major
    Carnegie Mellon University 2014

  • #2
    Just a bit of background, I worked for an eikaiwa for 4 and a half years. The first 2 years was standard work, the 3rd year was working as a loan out to a Middle/High school, The 4th year was for that school's attached university and the final half year was a wrap up in standard eikaiwa again before I returned home.

    So it's not your typical Salaryman's slog, but there are similarities. Of course all of this is from personal experience, and not via research.

    1. There seemed to be a strong demarcation between Japanese full-time workers and the 'native teachers/instructors'. 'Native', while sounding almost tribal referred to 'native speaker of X-language'. That difference was strong in the ethos expected from the workers. The Japanese staff were expected to work longer hours for less pay, and were more regimented organised in a more hierarchical manner. In a physical sense, Japanese office layouts in '島' - the long rows of desks facing each other with the 課長 at the desk at the end facing everyone they were responsible for, and the 部長 sitting at their desk behind the 課長 - was something that I never encountered in a western work environment, and also the reliance on paper is/was prominent in my mind.

    2. The biggest thing was the waste of energy. If the boss was working, Japanese subordinates were generally expected to stay back and 'work' even if they had done what they needed to do for the day. It's the strong team/group mentality that Japanese are renowned for, but it does seem a waste of time. In terms of changing it, I don't see how, not without reporting daily work completed so that the seeming need to to ensure that everyone is working hard and doing their bit is fulfilled.

    The other thing was the overly strict adherence to time. Work started on-the-dot with time cards, not a minute later - earlier was fine at the start, and later was fine at the end, but don't dare be late or leave early by a minute. That one minute (or worse, more!) had to be explained. Of course the HQ line was that it was, but cultivation of a good rapport with branch staff often allowed for some bending of the rules by people 'forgetting' to clock on and the staff hand writing the 'correct' time. :3 This was something that probably never happened at HQ though..

    3. Paradoxically, the adherence to time! That same work culture that made people stress about being on time to work etc, is the key to the work ethic that Japan's famous public transport system runs on. There was a reliability that you know that your colleagues were going to be at x place at y time, on time. Also for all staff, there were optional and free comprehensive annual health checks, as well as company paid for public transport (to, from and between work places). This kind of care given to workers and mobility was something I missed when returning home.

    4. Adherence to group; in work training, working together, as well as school, and family life. Civility and conflict avoidance; professional relationships between co-workers, retail/hospitality staff service all sort of tie in with each other.

    Comment


    • #3
      1. In your opinion, what makes the Japanese workplace unique? What would you consider some of its defining features?

      Two things that jump readily to mind are the sempai/kohai relationship, and desk shima or islands.

      While the sempai/kohai relationship in the workplace is not as strong and salient as in, say, a Japanese university, it plays an important part in the education of new hires.

      In Japan, cubicles are practically unheard of, and private offices are rare except in the cases of the highest levels of management. A Japanese office is generally a large room with desks pushed together to form sections and departments. This allows for more face-to-face communication, and generally a much higher degree of interpersonal involvement.

      2. If there are any negative things about Japanese work atmosphere/culture, what are they? How would you change them if you could?

      From a personal standpoint, the workplace tatemae of everyone busily working. A high work ethic is good, but the tatemae results in, IMO, a certain lack of naturalness (shizentai). E.g., rene's example of people looking busy just to fill out time, or just the inability to lean back in your chair as you read something over your computer. There is, again IMO, an unproductive amount of attention paid to appearance over results.

      The other thing, which might actually be slowly changing as economic times dictate, is the difficulty in changing jobs as you get older. This is true to a degree in many countries, I think, but especially in Japan where each company has its own corporate culture, and much of your practical training comes in the job, taught by your sempai. Companies are hesitant to higher new people who haven't grown up in that corporate culture.

      3. Are there positive aspects you wish other cultures adhered to? What makes these things in particular positive?

      When it works, the sempai/kohai relationship is an absolutely beautiful thing.

      4. In what ways do you find the culture of the Japanese workplace to relate and/or differ from Japanese culture in general (or other subcultures within it?)

      In many ways, Japanese workplace culture is Japanese culture in general. One's occupation is such a huge part of who someone is here. It will, in a large part, dictate your social circle. Even housewives are identified in someways by their husband's occupation and/or workplace. Think of the word "salaryman" which is so broad as to virtually defy description, and yet it is probably the largest "occupation" in Japan. But the Japanese salaryman, when asked what he does, doesn't say, "I'm a salaryman", he says "I work at X company." There's less of a demarcation between "work" and "private" time. If you mess up in your private life, say, commit some kind of misdemeanor, it will likely have repercussions in your workplace. A friend of mine was once in a traffic accident, the other guy at fault, and my friend didn't like the other guy's attitude. So he called up the guy's workplace and chewed out his superior. When young Seibu Lions pitcher Matsuzaka Daisuke was caught driving without a license, his team confined him to his house, and he lost all endorsements. Toyota has a standing policy that anyone in their employ caught drinking and driving is automatically fired. I may be wrong, but my impression is that if American companies attempted to punish their employees for non-work related private incidents, they'd be opening themselves to lawsuits. Of course, one could say that in Japan, you are always a representative of your employer, so there's no such thing as a "non-work related" incident. Anything you do, or happens to you, reflects on whomever you work for.

      Comment


      • #4
        Rene and Josh, these answers and thoughts are very, very helpful, and are giving me a lot to think about.
        Thank you so much for taking the time to share some of your ideas and experiences.
        I look forward to seeing what others have to say as well!

        Comment


        • #5
          Just read the following post on Tofugu, which you may find both enjoyable and helpful. It might be written in a humorous fashion, with plenty of silly images thrown in, but it actually contains some quality content!

          http://www.tofugu.com/2011/11/09/und...the-karate-kid

          Comment


          • #6
            Ahh, Tofugu, always a good resource.
            Thank you!

            Comment


            • #7
              Not perhaps directly related but my understanding (from what I'm told) is that some Japanese cultural traits are reinforced by tax structure.

              For example, someone who works freelance has to pay slightly higher social insurance tax than someone whose social insurance is paid through their employer. It's a subtle discouragement against going out on your own (especially with the economy the way it is). So much for entrepreneur friendly policy.

              Also, homes constructed more than 7 years ago are subject to higher property taxes than newer homes. Homes constructed less than 7 years ago fetch higher rent but the lower tax largely offsets this against older homes. Effectively, there's no financial advantage to living in an older home. So this is another subtle reinforcement of a cultural preference for newness.

              I've also heard that samurai would commit seppuku because being captured and executed by the enemy meant their estate would be forfeited from being passed on to their heirs (not sure how this policy operated during the Edo period when samurai were forced off the land and relied entirely on stipends for their services but then again there were no wars).

              So there seems to be policy reinforcement of certain cultural tendencies.

              Comment


              • #8
                Not perhaps directly related but my understanding (from what I'm told) is that some Japanese cultural traits are reinforced by tax structure.

                For example, someone who works freelance has to pay slightly higher social insurance tax than someone whose social insurance is paid through their employer. It's a subtle discouragement against going out on your own (especially with the economy the way it is). So much for entrepreneur friendly policy.

                Also, homes constructed more than 7 years ago are subject to higher property taxes than newer homes. Homes constructed less than 7 years ago fetch higher rent but the lower tax largely offsets this against older homes. Effectively, there's no financial advantage to living in an older home. So this is another subtle reinforcement of a cultural preference for newness.

                I've also heard that samurai would commit seppuku because being captured and executed by the enemy meant their estate would be forfeited from being passed on to their heirs (not sure how this policy operated during the Edo period when samurai were forced off the land and relied entirely on stipends for their services but then again there were no wars).

                So there seems to be policy reinforcement of certain cultural tendencies.

                Comment

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